Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wildwyck County: The Black Magic Club

A little ahead of the era in which the Wildwyck County material appearing in the pages of Fight On! magazine is set, but Black Magic Club has its roots in the 1920s and its original incarnation will appear in the period Wildwyck County supplements.

Once a month, in the old wing of Rotskills’s Brodhead Library, a cabal of men and women gather after night fall. Herbal potions are brewed, elixirs sipped, and ceremonial foodstuffs consumed. When the preliminaries are completed, one of their members begins to speak, weaving a captivating spell.

This is no occult coven, however. It is a meeting of the finest storytellers in Wildwyck County. For nine decades, this group has met in the Freedman Reading Room on the night of the full moon to tell tall tales, trade old legends, and recount historical anecdotes regarding the town of Rotskill. Limited to a membership of thirteen, the Black Magic Club began at the onset of Prohibition. With liquor outlawed and the taverns forcibly shut, some young men formed private and semi-private social clubs to hide their alcohol consumption. The Black Magic Club was one such organization and the only one to remain after the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1933.

The club got its name from the quick retort one member uttered not long after the club’s formation. When pressed by his wife as to what he was doing out at such an hour, Caleb Brown, a founding member of the social club, sarcastically replied, “Black magic.” When he regaled his fellow members with the anecdote, the name stuck.

Although the club’s membership is limited, the group does host occasional seminars and open houses to raise awareness of the importance of preserving oral history and folklore. It is safe to say that, amongst its members, there is no greater repository of local legend and history in town. This doesn't mean that they are completely free with all their tales: some things are better forgotten—or at least restricted to a close circle of people best suited as custodians of such knowledge.

The Black Magic Club’s current membership is comprised of Michael Harris, librarian and town historian; Selma Andersen, president of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution; Bill Miller, a retired chemistry teacher; Thomas Cook, lawyer; Albie Soape, bar owner; Jessica Allgoode, self-proclaimed “woman of leisure”; Freddie McDougal, auto mechanic; Cal Harris (no relation to Michael), theatre owner; Sebastian Smyth M.D., endocrinologist; Robert Ericson, author; Ellen Guinness, retired seamstress; Jake Forlin, college student; and Gordon Swims, former editor of the Rotskill Crier. It is likely that one or two openings in club membership will be forthcoming. Ellen Guinness has stage II liver cancer and Jake Forlin has one year remaining at the university. Forlin’s membership in the Club is a most unusual one. Previous members have all been long-time residents of Rotskill and most have been in their late thirties. The Club, as is its right, won’t comment on why Forlin was granted entrance into their esteem body.

The Black Magic Club has self-published several anthologies of popular local legends and stories. Copies of these books are available in the Brodhead Library’s collection and offered for sale at Brick Alley Books on Main Street.

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